Entries in relationships (147)


Don't Drop Me

I've been an employer for years now. In that time, many people have come and gone. Some I've had to help out the door--I hate that. Many, though, have left because they wanted to take their career paths in a different direction, or they got lured away by an opportunity they couldn't pass up, or they've grown out of their role and there's nothing more advanced for them here quite yet.

Whatever the case, I get it. I'm happy for them, and I'm happy for the time we got to spend together, working in tandem on really exciting projects and building companies in the process.

So I'm not shocked that people leave. I'm shocked that they don't stay in touch. At all.

These aren't people who had only passing contact with me. These are people I often worked with closely, five days a week, sometimes ten or more hours a day. I went to their kids' birthday parties. I threw them wedding showers. I heard about and tried to console them through their heartbreaks. Sometimes I bent over backwards to help them out during crises.

Sure, employers and employees always have a wall between them--a need to bear in mind roles and hierarchies--that keeps theirs from being a truly unfettered friendship. But other than that barrier, I'd say we're friends. Moreso sometimes than other people I've only known in a very distant fashion, but who've stayed in touch for years.

Yet they leave for a new opportunity, and I never hear from them again. I might hear from their banks when they're refinancing their homes. Or hear from future employers calling for references. They might occasionally get in touch personally when they need something for tax purposes. That's about it.

A few people have stayed in touch. One invited me to her wedding, even, and that meant a lot. Another sent me a birthday note the year after he left and dropped by the office with his daughter to show me how much she'd grown up and say hello. Another sends me e-mail from time to time, saying hello, forwarding articles that she knows I'd like. Just casual contact, maintaining relations. I wouldn't expect more than that. And I do the same with them.

So maybe some of these former employees weren’t really friends after all. I get that. But wouldn’t it be wise of them to preserve relations with their former employer? Maybe for networking purposes--after all, I might have contacts that could be of value to them in the future. Maybe for reference purposes--so that, if they need a letter, I can add present-day color and current relevance to it? And definitely for general goodwill--it's always a good idea to maintain positive impressions, rather than having someone think, "Oh yeah, sure. That’s somebody that I used to know."


Have the Conversation

When we got to the restaurant for dinner--late, because I was struggling with completing my semihomemade birthday present--the birthday girl was already there waiting. The table next to her was already occupied as well.

The young couple--early 20s?--looked to be on a date. One of their early dates, from the awkwardness between them. Aw.

So it was strange when the female kept leaning over to engage us in conversation. About what we'd ordered (when they'd ordered already). On what was good, when our food arrived. On whose birthday it was. (She could see the presents.) Whether we'd been to the restaurant before.

Here they were, eating dinner at a swanky restaurant, tete-a-tete. Shouldn't she be hanging on her date's every word?

When he went to the men's room, she slid into our table's fourth chair. "I'm so sorry, but I don't know what to do," she said. "We've been friends for years."

Turns out when he'd asked her to dinner, she'd assumed it was like any other night. Usually they went for order-in pizza and tandem television watching, but restaurants weren’t unusual. Yet when she showed up straight from work for dinner, he was there in a blazer, acting strangely, and he'd picked up the tab. Help!

Been there before. Right where she was. Does she come straight out and ask him what's up? Pretend nothing is different from any other evening, offer to pay for the next meal, and scoot fast before he can make a move? Is there some other option?

I've been there in business situations, too. There seems to be some sort of subtext, and one or both of us know what it is, but none of us come out with it directly. I've taken a sales class that calls this "mutual mystification." Example: "I thought this was just a catch up, networking lunch, but seems like there's some other context (e.g., she wants to sell me something, connections to my network, a job). I'm not sure, through and she's not coming out with it, so I don't want to make things awkward by straight-out asking what's up in case I'm off base.”

And been there in personal interactions with friends and family as well. We're both doing a dance, and neither of us is entirely sure of the other's objectives. We can guess, but we don't want to cause a blowup by acting on a guess.

I'm over it. This is ridiculous.

Just have the conversation. I'm going to be better about just having out with it, and you should be, too.

Frankly, it was bad of that guy--the one who was trying to get out of the friend zone at the restaurant--to ambush the girl with a date. He should have been man enough to talk to her, express his thoughts and feelings, and see where it went. Instead, he put them both in an uncomfortable situation.

Don't assume people can read your mind and intentions, and don't assume that an honest conversation will hurt your cause. Like my sales class taught me:

You can't lose something you don't already have.

Sure, it seems like having the conversation will be more awkward. Maybe it will be, for a moment. But in the long term, it's less awkward. They won't be wondering, confused, or even frustrated. And you won't have to worry about whether they "get it" or what each word or gesture means. And you may end up with a stronger relationship--a deeper understanding--with the person you've asked. Even if you don't get what you want.

No mutual mystification.

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